Not that I am advocate of theft, but it happens. It is one of the dirty little secrets of the gardening community. We gardeners are just obsessive compulsive sometimes and when we see a plant we have to have, we will do anything to have it, including steal.
But like the Mafia, gardeners have a bizarre Code of Honor when breaking the law. Outright theft is a big no-no (unless the building is due for demolition or is very abandoned but that is another part of The Code that we will look at another day), but stealing just a little part of the plant is not beyond us. Some of us even carry pruning shears around with us in the event that we find That Plant which requires us to break the law.
The trick is to know what part of the plant to take to guarantee that when we get home we will be able to grow our ill begotten cutting.
Softwood cuttings are how many trees and shrubs are propagated. Softwood cuttings are best taken in spring when the softwood is, well, softest. Softwood refers to the new growth on a tree or shrub.
The easiest way to tell if a plant is good softwood candidate is to look at a branch. The softwood will look and feel like a regular plant, soft and easily crushed between your fingers. The softwood will lead down to the hardwood , which will feel like a normal tree branch, with a rough bark (or bark-like) covering and hard to crush. The softer the wood the better the cutting will root. As soft wood ages, it becomes more and more like hardwood.
Once you have determined where the softwood is, take a 4 – 8 inch cutting of the softwood. If there is no 4 inch piece of softwood, you may have a difficult time getting the cutting to root.
Get a pot of soilless potting mix. This is “dirt” that has no dirt meaning the stuff you find in your yard. Most container mixes you buy at the store are soilless.
Strip the leaves off the bottom half to third of the stem.
Dip the stripped part of the stem in water and then in a rooting hormone like Rootone. The stripped part of the stem should be covered by the rooting hormone.
Stick your finger in the soilless mix to make a hole.
Stick the cutting in the hole and push the dirt around the cutting with your fingers. You do this so that the rooting hormone will stay stuck to the stem. If you just shoved the cutting into the dirt, the rooting hormone would be left on top of the dirt.
Place the cutting in indirect light and try to keep it moist and in a humid environment. The best way to do this is to make a soda bottle cloche. It is made the same way as the weed killer shield I made a few weeks ago (except that you don’t spray weed killer on the cutting).
Don’t panic if your cutting looks a bit peaked. You would look less than happy too if you were just ripped from your family and shoved in a pot. Your cutting will recover, hopefully. Remember, some cuttings root better than others. Not all of your cuttings will survive. If the first cutting doesn’t survive, go back and steal another one. Or just ask. Most gardeners are happy to share.
NOTE: No cuttings were stolen in the making of this webpage. Thanks to my neighbor Maxine for letting me take a cutting of her Hakuro Nishiki Willow